In a major reshuffle in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet on Tuesday, Smriti Irani was moved out of the HRD ministry and given textiles ministry while senior BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu was given the additional charge of the I&B ministry.
Vijay Goel became the new Sports Minister while Ananth Kumar got the additional charge of Parliamentary Affairs. Irani will now head the textile ministry while Prakash Javadekar will replace her as the HRD minister.
Newly inducted Anupriya Patel became Minister of State for Health & Family Welfare while MJ Akbar will be MoS External Affairs.
While many have accused Modi of making these changes keeping the Uttar Pradesh elections in mind, I detect a political maturity in the prime minister, who’s often been blamed for not listening to people.
A careful analysis of the rejig in his ministers’ responsibilities will show that the prime minister, for the first time, has responded to public perception about his colleagues’ performance. And he must be applauded for this.
There is little denying the truth that the choice of Irani as India’s HRD minister was a bad one since the first day. With growing questions on her educational qualification, Irani often dominated news headlines for the wrong reasons. Her frequent gaffes- ‘Dear’ controversy- and inability to exercise restraint on social media took the shine off the good works of the central government.
Irani’s educational qualification is currently a matter of court proceedings. If the court were to rule against her- that she never graduated from Delhi University- the development will cause considerable embarrassment internationally for the Modi government. Just imagine a headline, ‘India’s education minister found lying about her educational degrees.’
Relieving Jaitley from additional responsibility of Information and Broadcasting ministry means that the prime minister wants his perceived number two in the cabinet to give unflinching attention to the economy as the country’s finance minister. With I&B ministry, Jaitley often got the flak for not doing justice to the finance ministry particularly when the global economy continued to pose challenges to India’s growth story.
Losing I&B ministry also means that Jaitley will now be less criticised for wielding undue influence on the country’s news channels.
Prakash Javadekar was elevated to a cabinet rank on Tuesday. But most importantly, he was made Irani’s successor as the new HRD minister. Known for his unassuming approach, Javdekar’s choice has further established just how much emphasis Modi has given to performance and individual credential.
By inducting the leader of the Republic Party of India, the prime minister has once again showed political astuteness. Athawale is a prominent Dalit leader from Maharashtra and his induction in the cabinet will potentially help the BJP’s endeavour to reach out to the politically crucial segment ahead of elections to five States, particularly in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
As a journalist, Akbar was known for his critical view of Modi on Gujarat riots. By making him the junior foreign minister, Modi has silenced his critics, who often labelled him as a vindictive leader. Akbar’s induction into the cabinet may also prove to be a good decision for electoral politics of the BJP, given that the UP has sizeable Muslim electorates.